6 Technology Adaptation Lessons in Construction

Jeff Cann, CIO & Chief Strategist, Encore Electric
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Jeff Cann, CIO & Chief Strategist, Encore Electric

As the construction industry continues to recover from the Great Recession, CFMA identified four "Industry Mega Trends" that could impact the entire industry. Two of these 4 trends impact the use of technology in construction. Mega Trend #2 is the "impact of technology" and Mega Trend #4 is the "convergence of design and construction".

At many construction companies, there is often a disconnect between the larger industry trend to recommend the adoption of technology and the successful implementation of it at a particular company. In this article we will cover 6 real-world lessons to help foster the adoption of technology.

  All technology follows the technology adoption curve that spans from early adopters to laggards   

Prior to a discussion of these lessons, there are at least three issues to acknowledge when attempting to introduce technology in construction.

The first issue is that technology adoption and use in construction is accelerating. Two examples are the use of smartphones and electronic drawings. Only a few years ago, most superintendents were not interested in using smartphones on the job site. Now with more understanding and better mobile apps, you'll find even the most experience superintendent using them.

I was walking a job recently–the Visual and Performing Arts Center for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The occupant's use of the building introduceddesign challenges for our electrical construction team. The foreman on the job told me that the project goal is to completely build the project before we turn one screw (for the electrical installation). They are shortening the RFI cycle because they are using advanced collaboration tools (Bluebeam Studio in this case) to bring the geographically-distributed design and construction teams together to make decisions.

The second issue that slows technology adoption in the construction industry is that, compared to other industries, construction has one of the lowest rates of investment in technology, averaging less than 1 percent of annual revenue for companies smaller than $150 million in sales. Larger construction companies do not spend appreciably more on technology, with an average of 1.5 percent of annual revenue.

Construction companies are filled with creative problem-solvers who build anything. They often fail to understand why this successful approach is not transferred to technology projects because such projects require unique and specialized skill sets to be successful. This is why the top two limiting factors to adopt technology are budget and lack of staff, according to the 2015 Construction Technology Report from JBKnowledge.

The third item that impacts technology adoption is hesitancy from both management and employees that technology is not useful for the construction. We can summarize this into fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD).

A common fear is that the existing techniques of construction are not improved with technology–the sentiment that "we've always done it this way" or that technology will replace construction jobs. A common uncertainty is the users of the technology believe that it will be too difficult or cumbersome to adopt it. Finally, a common doubt is that "we don't need to change" to be successful in construction.

Construction companies that want to effectively adopt technology can follow these 6 recommendations, based on experiences over the past three years:

#1–Visit the job sites. People that work in construction are self-selected for pragmatism. They will not use a tool that is not beneficial. On the job site is where you can see useful tools. Ask the craftsmen on the job site what they like and do not like about their current technology. They will quickly identify items that need to be fixed.

#2–Keep tabs on construction technology. This can be daunting because there are new products and services being launched each week. Use these resources to help track trends, innovations and opportunities to advance against your competition: Construction Executive's Tech Trends newsletter; The Annual Construction Technology report from JB Knowledge; Trade shows such as ENR Future Tech and AGC's Technology and Solutions Expo; and networking with your peer contractors.

#3–Understand the technology adoption curve. From the invention of paper to the latest mobile device, all technology follows the technology adoption curve that spans from early adopters to laggards. Use this model to explain expected responses to technology at your company. Google "technology adoption curve" for details.

#4–Understand the FUD. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) is a technique to change the perception of something, such as technology by disseminating misleading information and appealing to people's fear of change. To combat the FUD, ask people for their objections of the new technology and then come up with credible answers. Then communicate like crazy so that everyone impacted by the technology has an opportunity to balance facts against FUD to join the effort to adopt useful technology.

#5–Use pilot programs. Find technology-friendly craftsmen and ask them to describe their problems. Solve these problems in a limited scale using proof-of-concept tests or pilot projects. If the tool is beneficial, craftsmen will share it with fellow craftsmen. Pretty soon, the technology will be adopted by enough craftsmen, that you can complete a deliberate roll-out to everyone in the organization.

#6–Propose, do not impose. The construction job site is a miraculous place, filled with chaos and pressure to complete the project. The field leadership is responsible for the success of the construction project. Do not impose an agenda for technology adoption if the field leadership believes it will disrupt the job. Rather, offer technology tools at the appropriate time in the construction project–usually at the start of the job. You'll face fewer objections because the leadership team can consider the impact of the new technology on the construction project.

In addition to these recommendations, it's important to have executive support, communicate the reasons to adopt technology, and build a project team with the appropriate skills and knowledge to successfully identify, select and implement technology that will be used effectively to improve the business of construction.

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